5 Facts About Memorial Day

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” John F. Kennedy

The first known observance of Memorial Day was in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865; freedmen (freed enslaved Africans) celebrated at the Washington Race Course, today the location of Hampton Park, and each year thereafter. African Americans founded Decoration Day, now referred to as Memorial Day, at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers and labeled the gravesite “Martyrs of the Race Course” on May 1, 1865. Black Charlestonians created this American tradition.

This year’s Memorial Day falls on the same calendar day as the first national observation. Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order in 1868 that May 30 be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country…” Memorial/Decoration Day was observed on May 30 every year until 1971, when Congress moved it to the last Monday of May.

Waterloo, N.Y. is considered the birthplace of this holiday because the people of Waterloo were the first people to proclaim a day on May 5, 1866 to honor the soldiers who died in the Civil War. They closed their businesses and placed flowers and flags on the graves of their soldiers. Flags were flown at half-mast.

Each year the 3rd U.S. Infantry places a small American flag before the gravestones and niches of service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery just before Memorial Day weekend. The soldiers put flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones and about 7,300 niches at Arlington. Another 13,500 flags are placed at the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Cemetery. It takes them about three hours to place them all. Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry stay at Arlington during the long Memorial Day weekend to make sure flags remain at each gravestone and niche.

The Southern States of Alabama and Mississippi observe the last Monday in April as Confederate Memorial Day. Georgia observes April 26th, North and South Carolina observe May 10th, Virginia observes the last day of May. Louisiana and Tennessee observe June 3 and Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day, January 19th.

Happy Memorial Day!

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